Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thoughts and quotes: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife
by Paula McLain
Bond Street Books (2011), Hardcover, 336 pages

‘Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know’
Ernest Hemingway

Hadley Richardson is the Paris wife of Ernest Hemingway. She is his first wife and they lived mostly in Paris during 1920s.
Paris in 1920s is the center of literary world, when the so-called Lost Generation shows its apex.
‘We could walk into any cafe` and feel the wonderful chaos of it, ordering Pernod or Rhum St. James until we were beautifully blurred and happy to be there together.’ (page xi)

Paula McLain writes an absorbing book from Hadley’s point of view, with some insertions from Hemingway’s thoughts (in italic characters).

The couple struggles to survive with no money, and especially Hemingway’s will to become a writer.
Just after their marriage, Hadley’s doubts about her ‘collocation’ in Hemingway’s life is increasing.
‘I wasn’t at all convinced I was special, as Ernest was. He lived inside the creative sphere and I lived outside, and I didn’t know if anything would ever change that.’ (page 107)
Actually Hemingway was one of the few writers to whom life is a link for books, and the contrary; the stories come to Hemingway from real life, and he lives his real life always on the border between life and death, where life shows its power. At the beginning of Hemingway’s career, when he is with Hadley, that objective is very far but Hemingway already knows it.

McLain, almost until the first Hadley and Hemingway’s journey in Spain, shows respect and fear, writing about Hemingway. That could be McLain’s choice of Hadley as a weak character, but the reader’s feeling are different: it seems mostly McLain’s fear to write, although indirectly, about Hemingway.
The Paris Wife improves when Hadley and Hemingway life changes with the first books’ success, although it means a change also in the marriage: ‘It was the end of Ernest’s struggle with apprenticeship, and an end to other things as well. He would never again be unknown. We would never again be this happy. The next day we boarded a train back to Paris.’ (page 195)

I recommend this book to Hemingway’s fans: it’s better than a biography, although less ‘feral’, vitalistic, than Hemingway’s books.

PAULA MCLAIN was born in Fresno, CA in 1965.
She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996, and since then has been a resident at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony (a community of artists where they can work in peaceful surrounding, some notable names: Leonard Bernstein, Jonathan Franzen, Alice Sebold, etc.).
She is the author of two collections of poetry, a memoir Like Family (Little Brown, 2003), and one previous novel, A Ticket to Ride.
Paula McLain lives in Cleveland, OH with her family.

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